Paul had some very arrogant opponents at Corinth. But he was confident that there was no kingdom power in their arrogance. So he says in 1 Corinthians 4:20, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” This raises two questions we will need to consider.
The Nature of the Kingdom of God
First, what is the nature of the kingdom of God?
Here it seems to be a present demonstration of power. But two chapters later in 1 Corinthians 6:9 it seems like a future realm: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
Is it future or is it present?
Is it a power to be exerted in the world by Christians or is it a realm that we will one day enter in the age to come?
Is it both?
How do these fit together?
The Power Exerted by the Kingdom Today
Second, what is this “power” that the kingdom exerts now in the church? Paul said the same thing back in 1 Corinthians 2:4–5,
“My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
What is this power?
Is it the power of 1 Corinthians 5:4–5 that the people use to deliver a member to Satan for the destruction of the flesh?
Is it the power of Romans 15:19, “the power of signs and wonders”?
Is it the power of Colossians 1:11, the power “for all endurance and patience with joy”?
And is this kingdom and this power for us today?
Notice that Paul wants to come with this power in love and a spirit of gentleness.
1 Corinthians 4:21 “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
I don’t think he means that the rod of rebuke and discipline would be unloving. He simply means, Shall I come with disciplinary love or gentle affirming love?
But the important point for us is simply the connection between love, power, and the kingdom of God. The power of the kingdom is going to show itself in love. Love is our aim.
Our interest in these things is very practical:
Love and compassion are the fulfilment of all practical Christian living.
When you love, you “fulfil the whole law” (Romans 13:10). “Faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). “Faith working through love” is the only thing that is approved by God (Galatians 5:6). “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love is the test of whether spiritual gifts and power amount to anything: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–2).
Our goal is to learn how to love with the greatest power and effect that the kingdom of God will allow in this evil age.
An example of this outworking of the Kingdom message is what is called “power evangelism.” Almost every instance of successful evangelism in the New Testament involved some demonstration of supernatural power alongside the preaching of the Word—a healing, a deliverance, a prophecy, a resurrection from the dead, speaking of foreign tongues.
The point is that this part of New Testament evangelism is missing in the western church for no good biblical reason and that this accounts for some of our weakness and ineffectiveness. These confirming miracles (called “signs and wonders”) have a valuable function, not to replace the verbal gospel but to win a more open hearing for it and confirm it.
That’s the pattern in Acts 14:3, “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. ”
The “signs and wonders” were the Lord’s direct miraculous witness to his Word.